Written By Georges Brisset of Life Beginner’s Manual
You as a person are the product of your mind. Your mind is what is going on in your brain. Whether the brain is the recipient or the generator of the mind is debatable but this is not relevant to us here.
The brain is the physical organ, the mind is the product of its activity. To understand how the mind works, you need to understand how the brain works.
Neurology made tremendous progress, identified many parts of the brain, and associated them with behaviors and body functions. Alas, this is almost useless to lay people in search of a better life, because it is often too complicated, there is too much to know and we cannot pronounce most of it.
Moreover, It is a scientific fact that every section of the brain is actually linked to most of the other sections. Neurologists are also constantly discovering new relationships inside the brain.
Since our purpose is not to cure diseases but to have a basic understanding of what is going on in our head, this post will be based on what I call my Simplified Brain Theory.
The works of prominent philosophers, scientists and psychologists such as William H. Calvin, Bill Williams, Paul D. MacLean. or Daniel Kahneman have been condensed into three simple building blocks with basic properties. All you will have to learn to understand your mind is how these building blocks interact with each other in addition to a few precepts.
The Building Blocks – The 3 Parts of the Brain
I divide the nervous system into 3 sections. Remember that this division is a simplification of the actual anatomy of the brain.
This includes the cerebellum, the brain stem, the spine and all the nerves throughout the body.
Mostly composed of the Limbic system – Thalamus, cingulate, amygdala, etc.
The neocortex, front lobes, parietal lobes, etc.
Precept: The brain only exists to increase the odds of survival
Description of Brain 1
Brain 1 is in charge of everything related to the body such as temperature, fluids, digestion, hormones, heartbeat, breathing, motor skills, or balance.
Brain 1 is on a constant alert, checking every body fluid level, the heartbeat, the status of every organ, the input from the senses, etc.
Would Brain 1 stop working for a short instant, you would be dead.
Brain 1 takes its information from
- The external senses, touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing.
- The internal senses, pain, pleasure, balance, nauseous feeling, hunger, thirst, etc.
Facing a situation, each part of the brain makes a positive or a negative assessment
Brain 1 makes use of physical information to make that assessment
- Physical pleasure is evaluated as positive (satiety, warmth, rest, sex)
- Pain is evaluated as negative (hunger, thirst, ailment, wound, cold, fatigue)
Brain 1 takes a direct action in presence of a situation. Reflexes are a good example
Brain 1’s memory is limited to what the body needs to react to. This is what we call muscle memory
Description of Brain 2
Brain 2 is checking things outside of the body. Landscape, vegetation, and other beings that are around. It is constantly checking its surroundings for good and bad news. Brain 2 is aware of its environment.
Brain 2 takes its information in bulk.
It perceives things in their totality. All the information related to something – smell, view, sound, air temperature, etc. is assembled into one global package -an image- and perceived all at once in a bulk sensation called a feeling
Information is remote – away from the body.
- Good news or positive evaluation is felt as contentment
- Bad news or positive evaluation is felt as unease or fear
Precept: Brain 2 is the brain of intuition and happiness
Because it looks at things from a remote position, and unlike Brain 1 which is reacting by taking direct action, Brain 2 can make decisions in presence of a situation.
Brain 2 associates an image (bulk information) to a feeling (bulk sensation) and stores this binary information in memory. This is often called conditioning and has been described in details in the work of Pavlov or Bergson.
Description of Brain 3
Brain 3’s world is totally abstract.
It is constantly comparing past memories, current information, and future projections.
It is the siege of reflection and all cognitive functions.
Precept: Brain 3 does not live in reality
Brain 3 is the part of the brain that is conscious. Because it handles past, present and future images, it has to keep track of which one is associated with the present moment. This tracking makes it conscious.
Brain 3 takes its information from Brain 1 (physical sensation), Brain 2 (feeling) and also mostly its own memory
This information will trigger a reflection.
- Coming up with an answer is evaluated as positive.
- Being stuck is evaluated as negative
But coming up with an answer is not the end
Brain 3 evaluates its own findings accordingly to a ranking system
This ranking system has many particularities:
- It is built over time
- It is subject to change
- It is completely artificial
- It is the result of personal experiences
- No two people have the same
How the 3 Brains Work Together
Ultimately, Brain 1 is taking action.
If the current situation is a body emergency, such as a burn, Brain 1 will take direct action – This is what we call a reflex.
If the current situation involves urgent remote information, such as a threat, Brain 2 will assess it and will emit a negative feeling – fear, make a decision – fight or flight, then pass the decision to Brain 1 which will read it as if it came from external stimuli.
Everything else ends up being treated by Brain 3 and the result of its reflection is passed to Brain 2 which will evaluate it – from fearful to uneasy to content, make a decision about it, and let Brain 1 carry the actual action.
This simple process can create very complex behavior
- It is constantly on, creating internal loops.
- Evaluations are often internal to Brain 3
- Memories are registered as it goes along, either modifying or reinforcing the ranking system
Also, because they are all physically linked, each part of the brain passes and receives information from the other two parts.
As much as this fact has its convenience, it also has a major flaw, since where the information originated from is unknown to the recipient.
Precept: Brain 1, 2 and 3 cannot differentiate where their information comes from
When Brain 2 feels fear, it does not know if it comes from the sight (Brain 1) of a sabertooth tiger or a threatening email (Brain 3).
To Brain 2, both feel the same way.
The functions of Brain 1
Brain 1 keeps the body alive and for that purpose, the cost of survival is no object.
Brain 1 is solely dealing with current situations with a total disregard for future consequences.
For instance, in case of extreme cold, the blood will be recalled to the core of the body, leaving the limbs exposed to dying for lack of oxygenation. This is how frostbites happen.
Brain 1 reacts directly to a stimulation by taking action.
- Positive stimuli will make the body move toward it or continue the current action.
- Negative stimuli will make the body move from it or stop the current action.
These two simple reactions -reflexes- are going a long way in the matter of survival.
The functions of Brain 2
Remember that Brain 2 processes information in bulk. Some of these bulk images are:
- The distinction between different kinds
- Facial recognition
- Body language
Brain 2 can read a situation from afar and feel content or fearful about it.
But it can also read what another individual feels
Precept: Brain 2 can feel what another individual feels
Negative feelings will generate a certain set of body reactions, such as freeze, cramp, or tension. These cues are read by Brain 2 the same way it would read any situation.
Over time, Brain 2 learned to associate such cues to bad news and bad feeling through its conditional memory.
- As a result, an individual can read danger cues from the body language of the individual who actually sees the danger.
- No need to be in sight of danger to learn its presence. On a survival standpoint, this is a huge advantage.
Animals -including humans- equipped with a Brain 2 apparatus are capable of compassion
- Distress perceived from another individual makes Brain 2 feel distressed.
- Contentment perceived by another individual makes Brain 2 feel content.
Compassion leads to caring.
- Caring for another individual will relieve his feeling of distress and create the feeling of contentment in the caring individual.
Brain 2 is a major advance in the matter of survival of a species.
- The species can be a more complex life form because the young can take a longer time to grow since they are taken care of.
- Being able to spot danger from body language means someone is also watching your back, making for greater odds of survival.
This constant interaction within the group is creating a new feeling called connection. For higher forms of life, connection is directly linked to survival, especially when young, hurt, or otherwise dependent on the care of others.
Brain 2 is constantly maintaining an awareness of its surroundings.
- This awareness also generates the feeling of connection since good and bad news alike will be spotted instantly, again making for greater odds of survival.
- The lack of connection is directly perceived as a threat to survival.
- Any threat to survival is treated with a great sense of urgency.
Precept: Connection is essential to human life
Brain 1 may not realize that the negative feeling perceived by Brain 2 (the lack of connection) is not a direct physical threat and will engage in a strict survival mode.
As previously seen, the cost of survival is no object. Brain 1 will cut its losses without a flinch.
- Retract to a protective posture
- Call fluids back to the core
- Reduce oxygen consumption
- Reduce energy expenditures, by limiting movements
People with a lack of connection will be sickly and may eventually die.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is linked to the lack of Connection.
— Lewis et al – General Theory of Love.
The functions of Brain 3
Brain 3’s main function is problem solving
Brain 3 likes to solve problems because solving problems feels good. Being stuck feels bad
Brain 3 is judgmental
You cannot improve what you cannot measure, so in order to resolve a problem, Brain 3 has to compare images of the current situation with past memories and future projections using its ranking system.
- Future projections with positive output will rank high in its evaluation system.
- The evaluation system of Brain 3 is part of its long-term memory
- The evaluation system is subject to change.
Brain 3 has willpower
The memory of the good feeling of resolving a problem creates something to strive for.
- How to obtain this good feeling becomes a problem to solve.
Brain 3 can focus its attention
The other two Brains are only responding to what is happening to the body or in the environment
- Again, the memory of a good feeling creates something to strive for.
Brain 3 is the engine of desire
Desire is focused attention to obtain a good feeling.
- Brain 1 and Brain 2 are motivated to fix an actual and current situation
- Only Brain 3 can stay focused on something even if it is not present
Brain 3 creates -and loves- rules
Rules are preset solutions
- Brain 3’s first choice of a solution is one that is already available as a direct match to the situation.
- Solving problems feels good. Rules make it happen faster. Brain 3 loves rules.
- A situation matching a rule is evaluated to be right
- A situation not matching a rule is evaluated to be wrong
How to Identify Which Part of Your Brain You Are Using
We spend most of our waking time in Brain 3 mode. Yet to feel happy, we need to be in Brain 2 mode.
You are in Brain 1 mode when
- You sleep
- In extreme alertness, like in an emergency
- Paying attention to sudden sound or sight
You are in Brain 2 mode when
- In complete sync with your environment, totally aware, in the zone
- You totally get it but cannot explain it
- Meditating, contemplating, or in other mindful practices
- Life is carefree and everything seems to roll out just the way you like it – commercials and salespeople have a knack to make you feel that way
You are in Brain 3 mode when
- You explain, justify, find excuses or good reasons
- You compare, judge, or evaluate
- You plan, prepare, organize, or create a routine
- You feel jealous, envious, angry, frustrated, or helpless
- You are bored or feel overwhelmed
- You are right or wrong, want to be right, feel ashamed or guilty
- You read, watch TV, seek entertainment.
- You complain or comply
Remember that Brain 3 is working out of memory or other abstract projections. Nothing of what it thinks has a ground in the current reality.
The Proper Use of Your Brain
- Cultivate motor skills, exercise, try new moves
- Practice drills – repetition will create muscle memory
- Pay attention to signs such as Freudian slips, small accidents etc.
- Practice generosity, meditation, awareness
- Help others, teach, give.
- Make gratuitous acts of kindness
- Analysis, planning, problem-solving
- Create systems and routines, organize things
- Anticipate, prepare, or train for unusual outcomes such as emergencies
The Wrong Use of Your Brain
- Get high, get drunk
- Overtaxing the body, overworking.
- Sleep deprivation
- Making financial decisions in the spur of the moment
- Making decisions without pondering the outcome
- Seeking instant gratification
- Dealing with emergencies – Brain 3 will freeze if not prepared
- Caring – Brain 3 is an accountant and has zero generosity
- Justifying your shortcomings, giving excuses, or making up stuff
- Seeking information that will not be acted upon – These will only clutter your mind
- Consuming mindless entertainment
Precept: Brain 2 is your friend. Unless you are doing some serious planning, you should maintain a state of constant awareness
These three building blocks, their functions, and their precepts will help you understand a lot about the mind and its mysteries.
Georges Brisset is a student of many traditions and loves learning and teaching. Among recent achievements, he authored the book Life Beginner’s Manual – A Practical Guide to Finding Happiness.
Georges held a keen interest in researching philosophy, psychology and neurology, all of which, complemented and deepened his training in martial arts, Qi Gong, Yoga, and meditation for over 30 years. His blog and newsletter have become important resources for people striving towards positive personal development.